Maybe it was the author's annoying narration, or perhaps it was the frustratingly inarticulate characters, but I had to force myself to finish listening to this novel. It took me a couple of weeks to complete its 8-plus hours -- the last two hours were excruciating. In contrast, I've completed 22-hour novels in a frenzy of enjoyment over just a few days. This novel is torture.
Long, boring and pointless paragraphs are devoted to stilted dialog marked by the main character's inability to describe to her father and friends what had already been described to the reader. We get it! The people in this family don't talk to each other. They are trapped in their own little islands of secrets, silence and fear. As such, they are not terribly interesting people to spend time with.
What should have been novel's peak -- when the main character's special talent is finally out in the open and she is offered a couple of chances to put it to good use -- falls flat due a rather obvious "duh" plot turn. Ditto for when the brother's "secret" experiment is finally explained (in the last 10 minutes). I saw both coming from a mile away and kept wondering when the protagonist would figure it out. Suffice it to say, this novel left a bad taste in my mouth.
I loved this book. The story held my interest, the characters were believable yet original and surprising, the narrators were excellent and the ending was quietly satisfying. The author makes her points about the claustrophobia and falsity of modern life without getting preachy. The parallels between the imposed imprisonment and isolation of the main characters and the de facto isolation of people on the "outside" need no underlining. I'll be listening to this one again.
I should have heeded all the "terrible reader" reviews. The female narrator has an annoying habit of putting the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABle, making the text momentarily incomprehensible. It's hard enough to stay interested in the story without the distraction of having to translate the reader's mispronunciations. The male reader is better, but I almost gave up on the book before he appeared in chapter 6. The characters are even less interesting than the story. And who would name a family amusement park the World of Darkness? Talk about your heavy-handed symbolism. From the amusement park name to the female narrator, Swamplandia is amateur hour for far too many of its 13 hours.
I've listened to this 4 or 5 times since purchasing it and absolutely love the story, the characters and the author's narration. There are obvious parallels to the Harry Potter premise -- a baby targeted for death by dark forces develops special talents and knowledge under the protection of allies with special powers. But while the story feels familiar like all great fairy tales, it also has some elements of originality that keep me returning to this audiobook.
If there's an Academy Award for best actress in an audiobook, the women who bring The Help alive should win it. As an African-American woman whose college-educated mother supplemented her income by cooking and serving at dinner parties hosted by wealthy white people in our town, I expected to be more than a bit offended by a young white author attempting to write Southern black dialect. But I was pleasantly surprised by Ms. Stockett's ability to capture the voices of black women. And she didn't shy away from shining a light on the unpleasant aspects of Southern racism and violence, and the concomitant pain and bravery of the black community.
I adore these characters and enjoy sharing their world vicariously, even when the novel falls short of McCall Smith's usual standard, as this one does. Let's hope the next book in the series, The Double Comfort Safari Club, will mark a return to the charm that first hooked me and so many other readers.
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